tv The Communicators FB Google Twitter hearings CSPAN November 6, 2017 8:00am-8:35am EST
>> for serious readers. >> translator: and this week on capitol hill, both the house and senate intelligence committees along with the senate judiciary committee held hearings on the tech companies, election 2016 and russia. here to help us dissect these hearings are two reporters. david mccabe is with axios, ashley gold is with politico. ashley gold, what did you learn from these three hearings? >> guest: we learned that tech still has a long way to go in explaining what happened on their platforms during the 2016 presidential election as far as who purchased ads, when they bought them, how much money they spent on them and just how many americans saw those advertisements and were affected by them and may have changed their decision the about who they were going to vote for based on them. we learned a few new numbers out
of facebook, a total of 146 million users of facebook and instagram, which facebook owns, saw content that came out of these russian-linked ads. we heard some new things from twitter and google as well, and lawmakers had some pretty tough questions for the general counsels of these companies which had to sit through a pretty rough two days of grilling from lawmakers on these different committees. >> host: you said we didn't learn a lot about very specific things at the beginning there. we basically don't know yet what happened, do we? >> guest: we have a, we have an idea of what happened. we know of a number of ads that were purchased. it's possible there were more. we know of fake accounts that purchased ads on twitter, and we know about some action on google. what we don't yet know is whether there is any collusion with the trump campaign in coordination with buying all these ads on social media. and we don't really know if it swayed the election one way or
another. >> host: david mccabe, what did you learn? >> guest: beyond the numbers that we got from some of these companies and the clearer picture we had, as ashley said, of some of this interference, i also feel like i picked up on some wider-ranging concerns that some of the lawmakers had about the breadth of these companies and sort of the lack of accountability in law for them. so, for example, you had john kennedy, a senator from louisiana, not particularly active on tech issues grilling them about data privacy. it was clearly something that was worrying him, and i think a lot of americans worry about it when you look at polling data too. i think we understood that while russia was the focus of these hearings and the urgent matter, there's a broader set of concerns that is maybe fueling some of this distrust of the big tech platforms. >> host: politically, were these companies maybe surprised at the amount of animosity that they were receiving? >> guest: i think by the time they got there they probably
weren't. you know, these are experienced lawyers for the company. they brought system of their top aides with them -- some of their top aides with them. but certainly, it's clear they're been caught off guard by this russia issue more broadly, in fact, took a lot of heat from lawmakers about that. mark warper on the senate -- warner on the senate intelligence committee came out and said we came to you earlier this year, and you basically brushed us off. he used the phrase, you frankly blew us off. he visited facebook back in the spring. that was a sentiment i heard again and again from lawmakers, why didn't you get to this earlier, and also why didn't you send your ceos? right? that was another big concern. >> host: well, the home state of these companies is represented by senator dianne feinstein who is on the intelligence committee. here's a little bit of what she had to say. >> i've been very proud, and i know senator harris is as well, to represent this tech community from california. but i must say i don't think you
get it. i think the fact that you're general counsels, you defend your company that what we're talking about is a cataclysmic change. what we're talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. what we're talking about is a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. we are not going to go away, gentlemen. and this is a very big deal. i went home last night with profound disappointment. i asked specific questions, i got vague answers. and that just won't do. you have a huge problem on your hands, and the united states is going to be the first of the
countries to bring it to your attention, and others are going to follow, i'm sure. because you bear this responsibility. you've created these platforms. and now they are being misused. and you have to be the ones to do something about it. or we will. >> host: ashley gold, a pretty strong statement from the hometown senator. >> guest: definitely. and it is a large source of pride that these huge companies that have made hundreds of millions of dollars and really have influence all over the world with so many users that rely on them every day, these senators are very proud that these companies are from california, and they've enjoyed a really good working relationship with them for a number of years. many of these tech companies donate to these campaigns, especially the democrats, and some of these democrats are coming to the, you know, the reckoning that they're going to have to maybe regulate some of their friends a little bit. you know, google and facebook and twitter, they've pretty much
gotten off scot-free in washington for years and years and haven't really dealt with any real regulation. this is the moment they're coming to heel, and people are realizing that big tech -- while it's a great sense of positivity and usefulness for the world, it's not all good. >> guest: absolutely. and i think that gets us to the next question which is where do they go from here. and i think a lot of people don't know. you know, there are ideas floating around for what lawmakers could do in a concrete way. there's this honest ads act which requires ad disclosures, there's a bill that deals with online sex trafficking that might be an outlet for some of this resentment of big tech. but i don't think anyone knows exactly where this goes in concrete terms. but that almost doesn't matter because this is about how we talk about these companies. and many, many policy debates have been predicated on silicon valley's golden halo in washington. what happens when that goes
away, and i think that's a question a lot of us have out of this hearing. >> host: well, at the end of senator feinstein's statement there, she basically issued a threat: or we will take care of this for you. >> guest: right. and i think that gets at the fact that lawmakers get fed up when they feel companies aren't responding, when they feel like there isn't an attempt the fill in the gap which is i think why you see companies attempting self-regulation. the question is, is it too late. they've announced these questions -- facebook, twitter, google all doing more ad transparency around political ads, election ads, but they did it right before this hearing, so it was a pretty clear attempt to get out ahead of this hearing, and i think for some lawmakers that may not be enough. >> guest: yeah. it's a little too late too late. they're doing all this now, and there's a question why didn't you do this earlier, and new the damage has already been done. our election was messed with, and there's kind of nothing that can be done now.
we had senator al franken was especially angry yesterday asking these tech company general counsels if they were aware that foreign money was not allowed to go to elections, really grilling them like yes or no answer, did you know that, and asking them to pledge that they would not allow foreign money in purchasing ads, and not all of them could, you know, say yes because a lot of their ad practices are done, you know, automated, and they don't have people actually reviewing when they're purchasing these ads. sometimes if someone's buying something in foreign currency, they don't even know that. >> host: so, ashley gold, dyen january feinstein, al franken -- dianne feinstein, al franken, both democrats. they've traditional hi been on the same side on a lot of issues. >> guest: they have. these companies have donated a lot to democratic campaigns over the years. on the social issues, you almost always see the tech companies on the side of the democrats and liberals whether they're standing up for immigration, lgbt rights and other things
more on the liberal side of the spectrum. and as these tech companies kind of really keep growing and getting huge in their market share and their power and their monopoly is just massive, some democrats are getting concerned about antitrust, getting concerned that these companies are too big and can't control themselves anymore, and it's definitely kind of a change in that long-time relationship that's been very positive. >> host: well, also from the intelligence committee senator richard burr, the chairman. let's show a little of what he had to say. >> this subject is complicated. there's a whole new vocabulary that comes with this stuff. impressions are different than views. views are different than clicks. but there's one thing that i'm certain of, and it's this: given the complexity of what we've seen, if anyone tells you they've got this all figured out, their kidding themselves. they're kidding themselves. we can't afford to kid ourselves about what happened last year and continues to happen today. that complexity, i'll note, is
exactly why we depend on you for expert insight and reliable information. 60% of the u.s. population uses facebook. a foreign power using that platform to influence how americans see and think about one another is as much a public policy issue as it is a national security concern. crafting an elegant policy solution that is effective but not overly burdensome demands good faith and partnership between companies and this committee. just recently on the basis of a more complete and sophisticated analysis, the original estimate that 10 million americans were exposed to russian origin content on facebook was increased to 126 million. that tells me that your companies are just beginning to come to grips with the scale and the depth of the problem. >> host: what's the learning curve for the senate on this issue? >> guest: it's very high.
we heard this again and again and again. we had a lawmaker ask one of the witnesses what's the difference between a bot and a troll, right? an automated account and a person who sows chaosen the internet. again and again they asked about the word impression, and it gets at the steep learning curve when it comes to the complexities of of the digital ad market. we have this whole system that, as ashley mentioned, has powered a lot of growth in the american economy but most of the people who are party to it as users or regulators don't really understand. so there's a huge learning curve. and i think lawmakers, it forces them a bit to rely on what the companies say. but i think what we saw yesterday was it's not going to stop them from pushing the company on these issues. even if they have questions at the technical specificities of it, they're still going to keep pushing. they're not just going to back down because they don't understand it. >> host: i want to go back to
something both you and ashley have referenced, which is the size and power of these companies. "the new york times" has been writing about the collective power of the big five and their control over how we communicate today. is that going to be an issue that congress addresses? >> guest: we'll see. i think farhad has written eloquently about this and the difficulties in regulating these companies in a big way. i think what we see is that they're concerned about the size and reach of these companies on different tracks. there's sort of the big almost entirely abstract questions of antitrust and market power and how you approach antitrust law which is a philosophical question and then there's more concrete things like how do you regulate political ads. we sort of know how to do that from doing it on television right now. to assume that there'll be wholesale regulation of these companies, our reporting suggests that is probably not where this heads right now, and
the same is true of sort of the big questions like antitrust. but i think on the smaller issues you could absolutely see there is some momentum for these kind of regulatory solutions. it's a question of what breaks out and on what issue. >> guest: i agree with that. there is system momentum around this honest ads act which is kind of the most concrete thing we've seen legislatively coming out of the whole social media/russian meddling thing. the lead author on it, amy klobuchar or and senator mark warner, they didn't want to introduce this bill until they a had a republican onboard, so it shows they want to frame this as a national security issue. this is an issue that affects our democracy and something they think everybody can come together on. everybody wants our elections to have integrity, so if they rally support around that bill, you know, we could see that going somewhere. but, of course, you know, something else that people were getting into yesterday, some of the republicans were throwing cold water on the idea that all this social media meddling
through the election for trump -- threw the election for trump. they say it affected the whole election, you can't say it made trump win. and senator marco rubio said that some of these trolls, you know, impacted his own presidential campaign and meant to hurt him and sow chaos in his campaign as well. so there's a bit of a partisan divide there as well. >> host: did either of you see any of these ads during the campaign? do you remember seeing any of these ads? >> guest: i don't know. i mean, that's the thing. they looked so similar to regular ads that it's possible you saw one and, you know, thought it was real. i'm not sure. it depended, you know, if we were in groups that were targeted in these certain states and having liked certain things on facebook already. that's how they were able to target people. >> guest: looking at the ads that were released yesterday, none of them stuck out where i said, oh, man, i remember seeing that during the election. but i do think, you know, it's important to remember the scale that these ads, the scale of the system these ads were released
into. facebook has two billion, roughly, global users, right? so it gets at the fact that there are some things maybe you won't see even if they're pervasive on other networks on these platforms. >> guest: if you were already in one of these facebook circles where your friends were liking these kinds of pages, you were more likely to see these kind of pages. but if you were in a totally different world and hadn't liked any of these things, your news feed would look totally different. >> host: when they talk about 146 million people being exposed to these ads, does that mean it showed up in your news feed or that you literally clicked on it or did something with it? actually read it? >> guest: well, so the content that came out of these ads were not -- it wasn't just advertisements. you could click on an advertisement and then be linked to an event or be linked to a post or a news article which is referred to as organic content
separate from an ad. so out of these ads came organic content which is what many people ended up seeing. >> guest: and facebook's value premise is you can build an audience for your page with a relatively small amount of money. you have a high return on your investment. so to ashley's point, right, it was all that feeding into these organic content systems. >> host: representative terry see wall on the house intelligence committee had something to say about this as well. >> how diverse are these vetters? the reason i ask is because if you look at sort of your organic postings -- an example of that is blackettivist -- blacktivist, also turns out to be a fake facebook page, and that is trying to incite racial animosity. and so my point is this, sir: with all due respect, i know that you all are good corporate citizens and you consider yourself to be such.
but i think that it is paramount to our national security that we have more transparency and more accountability on all of your platforms. i know i'm talking to facebook, but do know that i am really broadly talking to everyone. and i want to know, you know, what you see as your responsibility to make sure that you are not, that you are actually vetting the content. and we know that you have a fine, you're walking a fine line because of free speech, and that is a paramount foundation of our democracy. so how -- who are your vetters, and are they a diverse group of people? >> our vetters -- the people who work on ad review, they are, they are around the globe, so we have a number of languages in regions, of course, that we cover, so we have people around the globe. like every aspect of our work force, we are committed to building a work force that is as diverse as the community --
>> now, with all due respect, i have to stop you there. you know, i sit on -- i'm a member of the congressional black caucus, and i know just last week during our work period several of my colleagues went to facebook to meet with your executives to talk about your diversity of initiatives. and i don't know if you know exactly how many racially diverse work force that you have, how many -- what the percentage is, but i can tell you if you don't know. it's very low. >> host: ashley gold. >> guest: so she, she was touching on a few things there. the fact that we're not sure who these content reviewers are, and i'm not even sure at what point during the ad process these content reviewers even look at the ads. is it after they're purchaseed? before they're purchased? and she was talking about the general racial makeup of the people who work at facebook, and they've received a lot of flak about not being diverse at all. the congressional back caucus went on a trip to silicon value i havely -- valley to speak to
them about diversity initiatives. they were hoping in the past two years they would have made some progress in adding diversity to their work forces, especially to their boards. the two lawmakers that went out there, barbara lee and g.k. butterfield, they came back very, very not happy with what they saw, said the companies had made no progress at all, a huge lack of diversity, lack of black board members, and these companies were scrambling, apologizing. weed had sheryl sandberg on the hill just a couple weeks ago and said that facebook would, you know, pledge to add a black board member. so there's a lot of frustration across the board that these companies are not, you know, employing people that look like the makeup of america. >> guest: i would just add that i think this question of who's reviewing the content when it goes to a human being rather than an algorithm is hugely important. earlier this week we rolled out a poll with survey monkey that
found that a majority of people would prefer that these ads be vetted through human review rather than algorithm youic. human review is more expensive, we reported that they're going to apply human review to more types of controversial ads with social issues and civil rights issues. but it's an expensive proposition for them to review every ad by hand. so i think that question is going to keep coming back, who is doing the review and where is it being applied. >> host: well, i think i read somewhere that they're going to have up to 20,000 reviewers at facebook alone? >> guest: mr. stretch did teach on that yesterday, he said facebook would administer content reviewers. not sure when that's going to happen, but this is another one of these moves they're doing, they're announcing all these new initiatives. is this something that would have happened had they not gotten in trouble and had to go
to the hill and testify before three committees? we're not sure. >> host: before we leave facebook and talk about google and twitter as well, let's hear from senator john kennedy, republican from louisiana. >> how many advertisers does facebook have? >> we have approximately five million advertisers on a monthly basis, senator. >> did china run ads in the last election cycle? try to impact our election? >> not that i'm aware of, senator. >> not that you're aware of. did turkmenistan? >> no, senator. not that i'm aware of. we have -- >> how about north korea? >> i'm not aware of other foreign actors running -- >> how could you be aware? be i mean, this is, you've got five million advertisers?
and you're going to tell me that you're able to trace the origin of all of those advertisements? if i want to hire a lawyer, if i wanted to hire you when you were in private practice, you have an incredible resumé, and say let's go through four or five shell corporations because i want to hide my identity, you're telling me you have the ability to go, to trace through all of these corporations and find the true identity of every one of your advertisers? you're not telling me that, are you? >> senator, the commitment we are making -- >> i'm just asking about your ability. not commitment. can you do it today. >> we're not able to see beyond the activity we see on the platform. >> host: david mccabe, what was senator kennedy's goal in that line of questioning? >> guest: you know, i think we
saw several lawmakers try and draw the point out that these platforms and particularly facebook are so large that it might be really hard for them to meet the obligations that they're promising. you know, and i think we saudis belief on sort of -- saw disbelief on this front of how could you be able to track this stuff. and on the opposite side, we saw some people take a similar approach to the same point which is how could you not see this, right? al franken said these ads were paid for in rubles, how could you not know that an election ad paid for in rubles was a problem? and i think the company's response was to essentially say, it's complicated. we saw colin stretch say we haven't found evidence of foreign actors, but this investigation is ongoing. more issues may surface. we saw them keep saying, well, you know, foreign currency is one signal of bad ads, but it's not a perfect signal. but those kind of technical
complications, i think, were not satisfying to a lot of lawmakers. >> host: ashley gold, you are nodding your head. >> guest: yeah. i mean, like david was saying, senator kennedy was kind of expressing his disbelief. there's no way you can trace every ad while senator franken thinks there must be a way they could trace every ad. and, you know, the truth is somewhere in the middle. like he was saying, there's not that he knows of at this time. well, that's because facebook hasn't gone looking for those north korean ads or chinese ads or ads from turkmenistan. who knows what they would uncover if they were specifically looking for that. like he said, they only can see the activity that's going on on the platform, it might be hard 40 to see who's buying these ads all the time. >> host: we have not mentioned yet the trump campaign. these hearings have gone beyond p that. it doesn't seem like that was a focus this week. is that fair?
>> guest: well, colin stretch -- actually, all of the witnesses were asked in the house hearing did you find any overlap in the targeting used by the trump campaign's legitimate ads and these russian troll farm ads, and stretch said, no, we haven't. you know, that was a question sheryl sandberg was asked when she was here, and she didn't have an answer, so i imagine they came prepared with an answer. he said, no, we haven't seen that yet. the other two witnesses said we'll get back to you. but that gets at this question of collusion that ashley mentioned earlier. absolutely, we didn't see as much conversation about their relationship with the trump campaign. and i also note that we haven't talked about twitter or google either. [laughter] >> host: which we're going to right now, but did you want to add anything to what he had to say? >> guest: no many, the general theme of what was being talk about was, you know, these people messed with our election, they wanted to confuse and divide people, and that was the theme of yesterday. it didn't really have to do with, you know, the trump campaign was responsible for this or anything like that. >> host: twitter and google --
[laughter] they were also there. >> guest: they were. >> host: what was their role, and what was the direct questioning of those two companies? >> guest: so twitter, you know, they recognize that they're about 2572, was that the number of twitter accounts that they found were linked with the internet research agency purchased advertisements on that platform. and also twitter had a very strong working relationship with russia today, rt, throughout the campaign selling them ads, and now they've terminated their relationship in the wake of everything that's been going on. so twitter had to kind of stand up there and say we've kicked rt off our platform, and we're also introducing ad transparency initiatives. you'll be able to see who's buying ads on twitter. and they got some pretty tough lines of questioning as well. and do you want to explain what happened with google? [laughter] >> guest: google was in a
situation where they came in knowing their platform is not as exposed as facebook and twitter. so they essentially said that. they put some distance right away between themselves and facebook and twitter. and i think that continued throughout. you know, and i even think rt was absolutely a weak point for twitter, an area where they got hit again and again and again, but i think a lot of people came away from these hearings having heard 80% about facebook. one thing that was clear to me coming out of this is, well, this is a problem for all of the companies. it's especially a problem for facebook. >> host: did either of you come away from these three hearings with an impression that these ads were effective? >> guest: i think the ads were effective. i think they may have reinforced biases people already had and, you know, maybe made them feel better about things they were already thinking or feeling and made them think there were people out there just like them
that felt the same way and kind of enflamed those tensions they were already touching on. >> guest: yeah, you know, i think one thing we saw with the ad release, they released the targeting data as well, is a lot of these ads were served a fair number of times. there are some that were seen by nobody or seen by a minuscule amount of people, but there are some that were seen a lot, and they do focus on issues that during the campaign, you know, i think any one of us who covered that in any way know were hot button issues, whether it was immigration or police brutality. and so, absolutely, there was real exposure to these ads, and they focused on issues that were very active at the time. >> guest: they showed an understanding of kind of what was going on in the american political climate at the time, and they kind of seemed to really understand that snapshot of what was going on and what was making people upset. >> guest: and, of course, right after the election, they started trending away from trump and questioning the validity of his election which i think is
telling as well. >> host: what's the next step? another round of hearings? legislation? >> guest: so i think that those who already supported the honest ads act, the piece of legislation we were talking about earlier, will keep pushing for it. senator klobuchar is certainly pushing for it. and there is a chance that there could be more hearings on this topic. some of the lawmakers yesterday, like we said before, really wanted to see the ceos in the room. could they get called in to d.c. for a hearing, we don't know, but that's a possibility. i think there's going to be a lot more listening and learning and trying to kind of digest what all the tech companies divulged yesterday. and there's going to be, you know, a demand from lawmakers for more from these companies, more information, more research. >> guest: and i think, i think, you know, ashley mentioned this earlier, they all said their investigations are ongoing. there are some things they haven't looked for, and with facebook we saw them upgrade, upgrade the number of people who may have seen this content by about 20 million people in the
span of about 48 hours this week, and that was probably it seemed like information that they had before colin stretch, the general counsel, came in prepared with that. but it gets at this fact that a this may be more shoes to drop especially when we hear more about the organic content from these pages. and those are the kind of stories that could flare this eshoo up. >> guest: we will see more ads. the house intelligence committee is going to release all 3,000 russian-linked ads that facebook has handed over and, hopefully, we will see ads from facebook and twitter as well. they've said they're okay with releasing them. >> host: how did the ceos not have to appear? >> guest: you know, they're really busy, huge companies to run. mark zuckerberg was in china. [laughter] they wanted people who could really speak to the technicalities of these things and the legality of these things. but i don't know. [laughter] >> guest: you know, i think committee leadership on the intelligence committee many particular, which the senate intelligence committee was sort of pushing forward on this, they
never, they never kind of went out on that limb and said we need mark zuckerberg in the witness chair. you know, we can't say what would have happened if they had done that, but i remember pretty early on richard burr, who we just watched, came out and said i want someone with technical knowledge. basically said it doesn't need to be the ceo. so that may have been a factor and probably was a factor. but at the end of the day, i mean, it was very clear that some lawmakers were not satisfied with the witnesses. >> host: to be coned. david mc-- continued. david mccabe, ashley gold, thank you for being on "the communicators." >> guest: thank you. >> guest: thank you for having us. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider.
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